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An International Perspective

  • Sometimes when we’re talking about the United States newborn screening programs, it’s easy to forget that newborn screening also happens outside the U.S. But it’s a shame to turn our gaze inward. The world of newborn screening is wide, and exciting things are happening! Ireland, for instance, recently began nation-wide screening for cystic fibrosis – that’s a big deal because Ireland has the highest rate of cystic fibrosis in the world. The Canadian Pediatrics Society called for universal hearing screening last May, and Abu Dhabi started screening infants for cyanotic congenital heart disease this year.

    But the news isn’t all good. Many babies in China don’t have access to metabolic screening. Even though 150,000 children with sickle cell disease are born each year in Nigeria, few of them get treatment. In El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti there is no routine newborn screening at all.

    In countries with more developed programs, some of the discussions about newborn screening mirror the talk that’s going on in the U.S. For example, an advisory committee (SACHDNC) in the U.S. released recommendations on the storage and use of blood spots leftover from newborn screening. It turns out that this issue is also a hot topic overseas: In the last few years, New Zealand and the U.K. have both conducted surveys and focus groups to find out what their populations think should happen to blood spots samples after screening. Another example: SCID was recommended for screening in the U.S. last year, and a few months ago, a member of the European Parliament submitted a question for the E.U. Parliament about SCID screening.

    So what can we learn from this international perspective? The U.S. has a pretty advanced newborn screening program. We’re lucky to live in a country where almost all babies are screened for at least 29 conditions. Many countries don’t have comprehensive newborn screening and follow-up. Other countries have pretty developed screening programs. By looking at those countries, we may be able to get an idea of how we can improve newborn screening access and follow-up in the U.S.

    Want to find out more about newborn screening outside of the U.S.? Read this article on international newborn screening (will open as a pdf). 

    Do you have any stories about newborn screening from an international perspective? Comment below.


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